Norwegian minister advocates cooperation with Russia in Arctic energy projects
Norwegian Oil and Energy Minister Odd Roger Enoksen told a seminar on the future of the Arctic that Norway should develop plans to tap Arctic oil and gas resources jointly with Russia, even though Moscow rejected its companies for work on the massive Shtokman gas project.
As MosNews has reported last year, Russia’s state-controlled gas monopoly Gazprom turned down bids from Norway’s Statoi and Norsk Hydro, along with France’s Total and U.S. companies Chevron and ConocoPhillips, to help develop the Shtokman field in the Barents Sea, which has enough gas to supply the world for a year.
“For some, the story of cooperation with Russia ended with its decision in October last year to develop the Shtokman field without foreign participation,” Enoksen was quoted by Reuters as telling a seminar, which took place on Monday, Jan. 22. “This shows, in my opinion, a lack of perspective. It is in both countries interest to develop an ever closer cooperation to ensure sustainable management of the natural resources in the Barents Sea,” he said.
Analysts say that Gazprom’s decision to snub the contenders effectively delayed Shtokman’s start-up for years since Norwegians will now be reluctant to provide breakthrough technology only they have. It also derailed hopes for a quick solution to bilateral issues ranging from access to various parts of the Arctic to shipping and uniform environmental protection standards.
Studies show that a quarter of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas deposits could be in the Arctic, with new drilling technology and receding ice cover making access easier.
As oil-rich nations tighten their grip over petroleum resources, the far north is also proving to be one of the few places where large oil companies can tap new resources.
“Our business is changing, access to known resources continues to diminish while competition intensifies,” said Don Wallete, President of ConocoPhillips in Russia. He said international oil companies had access to 70 percent of the Arctic’s known resources and pointed to new interesting areas in waters north of Canada, Russia, the Barents Sea as well as off Greenland’s east coast.
Drilling in the Arctic has been criticized by environmental groups which say the far north is more vulnerable than other areas to spills and should be protected.
The legal rights to a large swathe of the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean in general are also unclear, as Norway and Russia have failed to agree sea borders for decades.
This debate will only intensify, say environmentalists, as the Arctic ice cover vanishes completely during the summer, opening the region to shipping and possibly further exploration.
“When this new ocean appears, some models say in 50 years, others in 80 years...then we will see a very different level of activity, political interest and number of stakeholders in what we have considered as our own backyard,” said Rasmus Hansson, chief of the World Wildlife Fund Norway, who was also interviewed by Reuters.